How to Get Book Reviews: 5 Steps for Success from a Veteran Reviewer

How to Get Book Reviews: 5 Steps for Success from a Veteran Reviewer

Question: How many book reviewers does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Six. One to change the bulb and another five to offer wildly different comments on how he does it.

An unfortunate truism about reviewers of books is that they all have opinions. And you know what they say about opinions: they’re like noses — everybody has one. That’s not the actual saying, but it’s close enough for a G-rated blog.

I’ve reviewed more than 150 books over the past two years alone, and one thing is for sure: there’s an awful lot of unrecognized talent out there.

So, what’s the difference between getting a glowing five-star review and a so-so three-star or (gasp!) the dreaded one-star drubbing?

Well, some of it admittedly lies with the sometimes whimsical tastes of the reviewer, and even, occasionally, what he or she might have had for lunch.

Getting a great review is four parts technique and one part sheer luck. Again, if you’re going to pique the interest of a reviewer with a full plate already, you’ll need to be creative as well as meticulous in your approach.

Whom should you ask for reviews?

For my own books, I’ve had good luck approaching the reviewers found on The Indie View, and The Indie Book Reviewer.

For another perspective on getting reviews, check out this post by Nicola Jane.

And, finally, you should go for the gold by approaching several of Amazon’s Top Reviewers.  A review from one of these folks can really look good on your book’s Amazon page.

One last thing. The jury is definitely out on asking friends, acquaintances and family members to weigh in on your work. I once had a Sunday School teacher of mine give a glowing review of my book — with only three stars. I thought I would throttle her the next time I saw her.

Speaking of bad reviews, here are a few tips from guest blogger Blake Atwood on what NOT to do when you get a bum review.

What about paid reviews?

We are mainly talking here about free reviews — the kind you sometimes have to wait months for. But what about paid reviews?

Once considered bad form, more and more authors are turning to giant Kirkus or other paid sites simply because a credible review from a third party — posted in your Editorial Reviews section — can grab the reader’s attention as she scrolls down from your book description to the section showcasing starred reviews.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it can be a good marketing investment for you and your work.

Five tips for getting a glowing free review for your book

However, we’re talking today about how to get a reviewer to post a free review for your book — hopefully, a positive one.

Here are five things that you, as an author, can do to significantly enhance your chances of success.

1. Write a killer query email

There’s an art to crafting a query email that will work for all potential reviewers, but they all boil down to some key strategies. You should:

  • Read and obey the basic review criteria for each reviewer.
  • Personalize your salutation.
  • Include an ASIN number or Amazon URL. I like to check the “Look Inside” feature on the book’s product page before I agree to review it.
  • Include both a word count and a page count; these are found in the book page’s fine print just below the description.
  • Specify the genre and make sure the reviewer reads work in your genre. If you’re unsure of your genre, that’s also spelled out in the Amazon fine print.
  • Craft a concise and compelling summary of your book’s contents. Don’t exaggerate and tell us it’s the “Must-Read Novel of the Summer” (I’ve actually gotten that one — turned him down flat).

2. Have a professional editor proofread your work

I can’t tell you how many otherwise stellar stories get downgraded or even rejected by poor punctuation, misplaced  commas, and nonsensical sentence structure. Your Great Aunt Flo, who received her English degree back in 1956, might make a mean chocolate chip cookie. But she may not be the most impartial — or best — judge of your work.

3. Send it to the reviewer in the format he or she specifies

Most of us hate PDFs: they’re just unwieldy and don’t lend themselves to easy notation or bookmarking.

I personally prefer a .mobi file, so I can easily read it on my Kindle Fire. You can make one by going online and searching for “text to .mobi” conversion.

4.  Check for typos

A few of these won’t kill your glowing review, but a number of them practically screams sloppy workmanship on your part as an author.

And, no, spell-check won’t catch the difference between their and they’re, for example.

5. Know why your book exists

A little extra effort on your part up front in knowing the purpose of your story can go a long way toward receiving praise for your hard work.

Some underlying, but often subtle, themes are a delight to read or infer, like the powerful bonds of friendship or the unyielding efforts of the protagonist to overcome inner demons.

Katniss Everdeen, for example, could have been a simple action heroine in a better-than-average dystopian thriller. But her multifaceted and conflicted character elevated the book far above others in its genre.

A protagonist, by the way, is generally the hero or main character in your book, in case you fell asleep during that portion of your freshman comp seminar.

There are more factors that can assure a good review, but they are chiefly inherent in the overarching quality of your storytelling. For example, no one wants to plow through one hundred pages of tedious character development before the first conflict or action.

Follow these five simple tenets and your chances for receiving a positive review should rise proportionately.

Have other tips for getting great reviews? Share them in the comments below.

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16 comments

  • Blake Atwood says:

    Excellent tips, Don, and thanks for the shout-out.

  • Nina says:

    I wanted to add my point of view here. I am a writer with articles on many sites, and weekly updates on my own site. I have a popular page on my site called “pithy book reviews,” in addition, I write about four long recommendations for a book blog called Great New Books. When someone approaches me for a review or recommendation, I am more likely to say yes if that person has at least read one of my articles and interacted with me in some way on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t think an author’s first approach to a blogger should be, “Please read my 300-page book.” I’d suggest reading at least one of the blogger’s 600-word articles before asking that person to read an entire book and then spend time writing about that book. Offering bloggers yet another free book in exchange for quite a bit of time is not a pull anymore. Show some interest in the blogger’s work, too, and that will get authors wanting reviews much farther.

  • Nina says:

    Meant I wrote four recommendations a year for Great New Books. Anyway, you get my point!

  • Thank you for the tips. I’ve had a terrible time getting reviews for my book, even from friends, lol. I’ll have to check out those links and see if I can find some luck.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, doesn’t it seem like the work is never finished? You query agents/publishers forever and when the book is finally published, you have to start querying reviewers.

    It’s so true that the writing the book is the easy part 🙂

    • Don Sloan says:

      True facts, as a friend of mine used to say. The authors who break through to bestseller status follow a rigorous promotion plan — and spend money doing so — something many authors seem unwilling, or unable, to do.

      But, for five or ten bucks you can often get premium placement on a popular book promotion website and boost your book’s visibility. Those expenditures add up, however, so spending upwards of $200 or so total may be necessary.

      Here’s what Readers In the Know (a great resource) has to say about the Amazon popularity algorithm:

      “If you get the timing right and manage to send enough buyers to your book’s page on Amazon within a short enough timeframe, Amazon’s recommendation algorithms will kick in and start recommending your book to many more potential buyers, which can have a huge impact on sales.”

      Finally, here’s a link to their 100 top promotion sites, spelling out which sites are free and which cost. (Note: as a rule, I have found the Twitter sites to be less effective than the true websites with mailing lists. Check out each one before paying for your book’s promotion).

      http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites

  • Thanks, Don.

    You mention Amazon Top Reviewers and provide a link; but how does an author contact a top reviewer?

    Oh … I went back to the link and clicked around. Some reviewers include their contact information. Bravo!

    Now can you tell me where to find twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week–no sleep periods–to market, find reviewers, and cram in a bit of writing? *grin*

  • Don Sloan says:

    Well, you raise a good point, Kathy. But dogged determination and a spreadsheet populated with names, emails and particulars about reviewers’ particular acceptance criteria seems to be the best way to consistently score reviews.

    However, someone told me once that for every 100 reviewers you approach, you’ll get 1 review. What a depressing statistic!

    For some authors, running a Kindle Free promotion results in new reviews, but many times those are one-liners that don’t help much. Still, it might be worth a shot.

    I wish I could still afford to do free reviews, but, alas, being disabled and on a fixed income has forced me to charge a bit for my time. (Sigh) But even in those days requests flooded in at a rate of 10-12 a day. It’s no wonder reviewers have gotten so choosy or halted acceptance altogether, citing a large “TBR” (too be read) pile.

    You might try reaching out to other authors in your genre to do reciprocating reviews. That got me four or five excellent reviews on my horror book. And, if you’re interested, you can download a free book I wrote with tons of links for promotional book sites and several Facebook group sites. Here’s the link on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/557266

    Good luck! Don

  • All very helpful and appreciated. However, I have advice for the reviewers. If you request a review copy of book, it is always appreciated that you followup with the author. If your schedule changes or you change your mind about doing a review, please let the author know. The courtesy needs to flow both ways.

  • Thanks so much for the article.Much thanks again. Great.

  • Great tips! As a reviewer, I am solicited by people who assume I’ll review their books (notice the plural there because OBVIOUSLY I want to read all their work *eye roll*) and assure me I will absolutely adore what they’ve written. And, yes – typos and editing errors result in docked starts, especially if I bought the book … and I WILL note it in my review if the editor is credited and/or praised at the start of the book >:(

    The one thing I’d include for writers is: Beta Readers. Get some really trustworthy individual(s) – that aren’t friends or family – and listen to their feedback. It can make the difference between 3 star writing and 5 star.

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